It's a tad strange to think about a best-of list in a not-so-great year, especially when it followed, and oftentimes felt identical to, an unequivocally worst-ever one.

The pandemic did not end in 2021. But we did get the tools to make the virus manageable, enabling social life to start returning, slowly, to a semblance of normalcy. After a year of exceptional stress and anxiety, many of us began experiencing moments of joy again, like that first hug with a grandparent. Even the most mundane things felt special and worth savoring after being deprived of so much. For beer lovers who have decided to resume more of their old activities in recent months, that has meant gathering at brewery tasting rooms with vaccinated friends and attending outdoor, socially distanced festivals.

So, was there one beer that stood above the rest for you this year? Did it provide comfort, distraction, or escape? Did it support a social cause or speak out against inappropriate behavior in its own industry? Maybe it just tasted really, really good. That's OK too.

To find the best new releases of the past year, we asked brewers, cicerones, writers, podcast hosts and other beer professionals to share their personal favorites.

These are the 50 beers that debuted and dazzled in 2021.

Editor's Note: Some responses have been edited for clarity and length.

Notch German Afternoons

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ABV: 4.5%
From: Salem, MA

"For most of us, environment has as much to do with the enjoyment of a meal or beverage as what’s being consumed. When the two are at once great and thoughtfully connected, you have something special with the potential for a truly memorable experience. For our first staff outing in over a year, this summer we went to visit Notch’s new brewery and tap room in Brighton. If you've been lucky enough to visit the biergartens/pubs/kellers of Germany or the Czech Republic, the nostalgia triggers here are immediate and powerful. After many months of canceled holiday parties and gatherings, it was the perfect setting for us to relax and simply enjoy each other’s company. German Afternoons, more than the several others, stuck with me from that day. Firm hop character but beautifully refined, it’s a beer with both personality and technical execution shining through in spades. Throw in a John Prine reference and the nostalgia pangs only grow stronger in the best way possible." — Zack Adams, owner and head brewer at Fox Farm Brewery

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St. Elmo Brave Noise

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ABV:4.5%
From: Austin, TX

"Our friends at St. Elmo did a wonderful rendition of Brave Noise, the multinational collaboration advocating for safe spaces and inclusive environments in the craft-beer industry. Objectively, St. Elmo crushed this pale ale with outstanding hop character, balance, and drinkability. Subjectively, this beer spoke to us at Jester King as a much needed call for change, maturity, professionalism, equality, respect, and safety in the beer industry." — Jeffrey Stuffings, co-founder of Jester King Brewery

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Gueuzerie Tilquin Oude Mirabelle Tilquin à l'Ancienne (2020-2021)

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ABV: 7%
From: Rebecq, Belgium

“During the 2020-2021 season, the blenders at Wallonia's only gueuze blendery, Gueuzerie Tilquin, blended a new fruit beer, fermenting 240 grams of Mirabelle plums on each litre of Lambic in the batch. The result was a testament to the thoughtful vision, incredible work ethic, and obsession to detail of Pierre Tilquin and his team who celebrated their tenth year of selling beer in 2021, their reputation growing year on year. The beer was also a signpost to where Lambic is headed: soft, nuanced, eminently drinkable beers with an acidic base on which fruit can express itself in complete balance.” — Breandán Kearney, editor-in-chief of Belgian Smaak

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Bottle Logic Somniphobia

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ABV: 13%
From: Anaheim, CA

"As a Chicagoan born and raised in California, I unfortunately don't make it out to a lot of special bottle releases of my favorite Golden State breweries. Luckily, though, the Festival of Wood & Barrel-Aged Beer is one of our best local beer festivals in Chicago. Bottle Logic brought two excellent samples this year and I was blown away by Somniphobia, the brewery's Deprecophia bourbon-barrel-aged stout with coffee added. With such a dessert decadence to it, this collaboration with VooDoo was one of my favorite pours of the entire festival. Delicious notes of dark-dark chocolate, caramel, oak char, and coffee. Oh so much beautiful coffee. Grab a bottle of this if you can!" — Emily Kosmal, brewer at Goose Island Beer Company

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Hidden River Hiss

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ABV: 7%
From: Douglassville, PA

"When Ethan Tripp of Fermentery Form dropped off a four-pack of this collaboration with Hidden River, I was confused, intrigued, and excited. A style of beer I love, West Coast IPA, from two brewers who don't usually brew it. Hiss was not a throwback to the IBU wars of the 2010s, and not a mislabeled hazy. A balanced, nuanced IPA, where the dry hop is only a little more than polish, giving the underlying base the main stage. Aromas of citrus, cantaloupe, and dank pine resin supporting firm, pleasant bitterness. Just a total knockout of a beer." — Andrew Foss, head brewer at Human Robot Beer

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Counter Weight Vitalis

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ABV: 6.6%
From: Hamden, CT

"The team at Counter Weight has been mastering the art of wood-aged beers, and Vitalis, released after more than 18 months of development, is the perfect example. It’s a blend of mixed-fermentation beers aged in white wine barrels, that was then aged on marsanne and roussanne grapes. A lovely marriage of oak complexity with fruity notes of pomme and melon, funk, and delicate acidity. My mouth waters just thinking about this beer. I wish I still had another bottle!" — Ryan Galligan, quality assurance technician at Two Roads Brewing Company

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Russian River Blind Pig Inaugural Ale

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ABV: 7.25%
From: Santa Rosa, CA

"I was lucky enough to have writer Stan Heironymus as a neighbor for most of the pandemic, and that meant that when Vinnie Cilurzo overnighted him some Blind Pig Inaugural Ale, I got to drink some. A recreation of the first beer from the brewery Cilurzo started before Russian River in 1994 (and a different beer than his current brewery's widely influential Blind Pig), Inaugural Ale was a shock to the system, a clearing through the haze of cloying sameness in modern IPA, and a reminder of how good IPA can be. Bright, resiny, citrusy, dry, and bitter, but most importantly, a balance of drinkability with big hop intensity. This brought me back to the beers that made me love beer, and there's a direct line from this can to our imminent launch of a core West Coast IPA." — Jason Pellett, brewmaster and CEO of Orpheus Brewing

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Trial & Ale brunch.

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ABV: 7.1%
From: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

"The first time I heard of Trial & Ale was on a regular trip to my favourite neighbourhood bottle shop, Oak & Vine, where the owner said, 'Nat, if you haven't tried this yet, you should.' The brewery packages in 750-milliliter, cork-and-cage bottles and its labels are clean and minimal, featuring a ball-and-stick chemistry model of lactic acid. Clever, nerdy, I like it already. A product of a careful focus on sensory-based barrel blending, brunch. is a mixed-fermentation sour ale bursting with raspberry jam aromas. The flavour offers up a Meyer lemon acidity balanced by juicy, overripe mango and hay-like Brettanomyces complexity. It will have you swapping your usual weekend mimosa for this effervescent, framboise-style sour clocking in at a deceiving 7.1% ABV." — Natasha Peiskar, production manager at The Establishment Brewing Company and president of Pink Boots Society Canada

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Outer Range Native Land

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ABV: 6.6%
From: Frisco, CO

"As I type this, I am looking forward to the next version of Native Land I expect to encounter. That will be at Bow & Arrow Brewing in New Mexico, where the idea for this national collaboration to further visibility of Native people and to support Native organizations originated. Bow & Arrow provided the recipe and label, asking that participating breweries—there are 30 so far—acknowledge on whose ancestral land they are located and to donate beer sales proceeds. Outer Range sits on land once inhabited by the Mountain Utes. Proceeds from their sales will go to First Nations Development Institute, which invests in and creates innovative institutions that support economic development for Native American people and their communities. Not just an 'Oh no, another hazy IPA,' Outer Range's version is equal to the mission. It manages to be both exciting and mellow, an underappreciated quality in the genre. Citra and El Dorado hops bring out the best in each other, subtle pome fruits nicely balancing noisier citrus and tropical ones." — Stan Hieronymous, author of "For the Love of Hops"

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Oxbow Saison du Smeirlap

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ABV: 5.5%
From: Newcastle, ME

"The pandemic put a damper on my beer travel but this past summer I did get to spend some time at Oxbow's beer garden in Oxford, Maine. To my delight, I tried this beauty of a collaboration between Oxbow and de la Senne. It's essentially one of my favorite beers, de la's Taras Boulba, re-fermented with Oxbow's house culture and it was as lovely as it sounds. Insanely drinkable but of course had tons of complexity. One of those beers that reminds you how exciting beer can be and refreshes your love of brewing." — Anna Jobe, innovation brewer at Night Shift Brewing

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Cohesion Tmavý: 14° Tmavý Speciální Pivo

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ABV: 5.1%
From: Denver, CO

Czech dark lagers have become something of an obsession for me and I will always order one when I see it on the menu, especially when it’s one of a handful of Czech lagers served from gleaming side-pour faucets, as it is at Cohesion Brewing. Cohesion follows a traditional method of decoction mashing with the innovative update of working closely with craft maltsters to develop malts that both the brewers and maltsters envision for each beer. My first visit to Cohesion was soon after they opened, the week of the Craft Brewers Conference in Denver this past September. The evening turned into several reunions as so many industry friends I hadn’t seen in over a year showed up. Every hug that lasted longer than normal, yet not long enough, was followed up by exclamations of how amazing this beer was. At 5.1% with a light finish, the Tmavy was the perfect beer to drink throughout the night and still remember all the fantastic conversations the next morning." — Jen Blair, advanced cicerone and co-host of “False Bottomed Girls”

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Allagash Coolship Cerise Estate

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ABV: 6.7%
From: Portland, ME

"One of the joys of spending so much time at home over the last year has been being forced to turn my full attention back to locally produced beer. Thankfully this region offers New Englanders plenty of stellar breweries that kept us all well quenched during quarantine. I picked up Allagash’s Coolship Cerise Estate during a recent beer run knowing its Coolship series is consistently reliable while also wholesomely innovative. Brewed with Montmorency and North Star cherries grown at the brewery—and thus different from the standard Coolship Cerise, which uses Montmorency and Balaton cherries sourced locally—Cerise Estate is cleanly tart, with subdued spice and Allagash’s classic microbial expression. It was a nice reminder that Jason Perkins and the Allagash team have been calmly maintaining a high watermark for wild ale quality in America since 2011. As exciting as it is to scour the states, and the globe, for the next great beer experience, it’s comforting to be reminded that there is no lack of quality waiting at home as well." — Thomas Madden, co-founder and brewer at Lone Pine Brewing Company

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Half Acre Tend Winter IPA

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ABV: 6.8%
From: Chicago, IL

"There’s something beautiful when we eat and drink along with the seasons, so it's a delight when the beer we drink does the same. Sure, calling something a 'Winter IPA' means little, but it's evocative enough for one to be ready for a hop showcase that calls to the season in the Midwest. Raisin, bread crust, caramel, and brown sugar warms the winter appetite, while notable bitterness balances and flavors of candied orange and spruce tips take you on the snowshoe trails of gentle hills. Tend is a reminder that beer can be subtly temporal, if we want it to be." — Jenny Pfafflin, brewer and marketing manager at Dovetail Brewery

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Threes x Fox Farm Stasis

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ABV: 4.6%
From: Brooklyn, NY

"I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s kinda been the year of the altbier. We’re brewing with Crossroads in Catskill while we build out our taproom in Hudson, and that has developed into a really great and collaborative situation for us. The folks at Crossroads recently released an altbier, draft only, and it rocks. They were joking about how it would be great to make more of it but don’t really see how to sell an altbier on a larger scale or make people grab it off the shelves. Well, if anyone can, it’s gonna be Threes and Fox Farm, both easily among my favorite breweries in the area. Their collaborative altbier, Stasis, is really quite classic—I don’t get the full, creamy lactone experience from it that you get in Threes' foudre-fermented pilsner, Kicking and Screaming—but there is a soft roundness that complements the mild but persistent bitterness and toasted malt character. The best altbiers have serious malt depth while being incredibly drinkable. It’s almost like sleight of hand. Stasis nails that. I had it at Clay restaurant in Harlem, which has one of the best under-the-radar beer selections around, for the first time, and also drank a four-pack of it this past weekend. Highly recommend it." — Mikey Lenane, co-founder of Return Brewing

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Free Will Field of Opportunity

ABV: 5.7%
From: Perkasie, PA

"2021 saw some alleviation of the restrictions we all felt in the early days of the pandemic. Even with some semblance of a return to normalcy, it was far from a normal year. Nobody felt it worse than my friends at Upper Reach Meadery and Free Will, who lost all its cellar projects in a torrential fashion to massive flooding that decimated its cellar. My hearts go out to the team, and I hope to see a rebuild, as that cellar was likely one of the biggest and best saison repositories in the U.S. A beer that really spoke to me personally was Free Will's Field of Opportunity, a saison-style ale aged in an orange bitters barrel with elderflower. The first sniff yields a pleasant mixed-culture fermentation, but underneath that lies an aroma of soft candied orange. As it hits your palate, you get a similar front of soft lactic tartness, co-mingling with a hint of earthy funk, that leads into thoughts of the holidays, and more specifically, candied orange peel. The finish is decidedly bitter, but in the best way possible. I'm not talking palate-blasting bitterness similar to Ruination IPA circa 2005, but more like a well-executed Manhattan. I give brewer Nate Walter shit for his lactose-laden kinderbiers, but he certainly is at the top of the saison game in my mind. Cheers!" — John Rowley, co-founder of Rowley Farmhouse Ales

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Narragansett Musik Express

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ABV: 6.3%
From: Providence, RI

“It's an east-meets-west IPA that strikes this really fantastic balance between resinous pine and dankness with big, juicy citrus and a bitterness that makes the entire beer perfectly clean. Beyond how well crafted it is, it's great to see ‘Gansett not only producing in Providence, but coming out of the gate swinging heavy, with head brewer Lee Lord and her team wasting zero time hitting their stride in making great beers.“ — Mike Souza, head brewer at Sterling Street Brewery

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Little Beasts Ladybug

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ABV: 4.5%
From: Whitby, Ontario, Canada

"I never would have thought the beer I want to be my everyday staple would end up being a smoked cherry grisette, but it’s 2021, so here we are. Assertively smoky with a bright cherry candy sweetness, all reigned in by a firm Belgian phenolic snap. I’m admittedly a regular at Little Beasts as much for the beer as the conversation. Erin Broadfoot, the owner and brewmaster, is an inspiration as a leader in advocacy for industry diversity, among other things. This beer unexpectedly goes with every food and every occasion, which really makes it the perfect beer for 2021." — Karen Belfry, packaging supervisor at Northern Canning

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Urban Roots 12°

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ABV: 5%
From: Sacramento, CA

"2021 was another crazy boundary-breaking year in the brewing industry. Everywhere I traveled, I saw rule-bending, style-blurring innovation. With that said, and on the other side of the coin, I saw a continued trend toward clean and well-executed lager brewing and I had more interesting, deep-dive conversations about the art of bottom fermentation than ever before. Lager brewing is near and dear to my heart, so nothing could make me happier. The culmination of this cold brewing activity came in November with a new and amazing festival dedicated to celebrating 28 lager brewers called Low and Slow, organized and hosted by the legendary duo, Dande and Jeff Bagby, of Bagby Beer in Oceanside, California. It’s no doubt a brewer-focused event, drawing in some of the very best, but anyone who appreciates bottom-fermented beers would be in heaven; make sure to keep an eye out for next year's event. Of the Low and Slow brewers that I had the pleasure of tasting this year, the standout beer for me was 12°, a Czech-style lager from the young yet strong Urban Roots in Sacramento. Co-founder and brewer Peter Hoey is no stranger to the beer business and has been a longtime student and practitioner of technical brewing. When he sent me some of his beer earlier in the year, he hit me with his Czech-style lager beers 10° and 12°. I loved both but with 12°, I was simply blown away by the beer’s clean balance and laser focus. The kind of beer that simply disappears from the glass and leaves you wanting more. So simple yet so perfectly lager yeast-expressive. Light Euro grains, herbal noble hop, with the perfect bitter snap. A trip to Sacramento is in my near future and it should be in yours as well!" — Matt Brynildson, brewmaster at Firestone Walker Brewing Company

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Montclair Fumé

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ABV: 5%
From: Montclair, NJ

"This rauchbier was special to me because it combined all of my favorite things: beer, art, smoke, and Black people. It was brewed for Barrel & Flow, our Black arts and craft beer fest. A collab between two Black-owned breweries, Montclair and Mack, a paid Black artist featured on the label, and shipped to 25 states via Tavour. It's light, smokey, and malty. Perfect for a fall afternoon." — Day Bracey, founder of Barrel & Flow Fest

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Cohesion 12º: Světlý Ležák

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ABV: 4.8%
From: Denver, CO

"Cohesion opened earlier this year in Denver and has been cranking out some of the best Czech-style lagers I've ever had. Head brewer and co-owner Eric Larkin brews and serves his beer with such an attention to detail and dedication to staying true to style that it's hard not to put his beers on a pedestal. The 12º, a pale lager, is my personal favorite because it's full-bodied and unapologetic, while also having a delicate balance of malt and hops. It can be easy to lose your hop profile when making a malty, robust lager, but Cohesion doesn't have that problem. And of course, when you get to order Czech-style lagers with proper Czech serving methods and side-pull taps, the beer is even better. I prefer to order my pour Šnyt style: thick foam that takes up about two-thirds of the glass." — Betsy Lay, co-founder and head brewer at Lady Justice Brewing Company

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Machine House Fresh Hop Cascade Guzzler

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ABV: 3.8%
From: Seattle, WA

“The Pacific Northwest is unique in its love for and access to fresh hops. Yakima Valley, home to over 70% of hop farms and producers in the country, is a quick two-hour drive from Seattle, making harvest one of the busiest times of the year for local breweries. Brewers time the boil based on how long it takes to drive to the farm, receive freshly picked, whole-cone hops, and return in time for hop addition. Fresh hop season lasts as long as the harvest, which creates a small window of about five to six weeks for fresh hop beers to be brewed. Where the market can get flooded with fresh hop IPAs, English cask brewery Machine House in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle embraced harvest season without sacrificing its traditional stylings. Cascade Guzzler is a fresh hop English pale ale more akin to a traditional bitter than a Washingtonian hop bomb. By hopping with classic ‘C’ variety, Cascade, the pale stays true to its English roots, with soft floral notes and just a pop of citrus. And unlike a lot of fresh hop IPAs that get a vegetal flavor with all the plant particulates, this is filtered, not aggressive, and absolutely crushable. It was my favorite take on a fresh hop beer I've seen in years. And while there's nothing compared to a freshly pulled cask pint, perhaps one of the best to-go drinking experiences is Machine House's half-liter bag in a box, ideal for at-home guzzling.” — Jess Keller Poole, co-founder of Seattle Beer School

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Southern Moon Eyes

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ABV: 9.5%
From: Athens, GA

"Rich chocolate notes combined with a slight coffee aroma make for a wonderfully balanced stout. Southern even offers different variations of this stout, like peanut butter and bourbon barrel-aged, so it seems there’s always a new version to try. The first time I had it was at a barbecue in the hills of North Georgia, which might explain why I fell in love with this tasty stout." — Hal Doss, lead satellite brewer at New Belgium Brewing

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de la Senne Saison de la Senne (2021)

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ABV: 4.3%
From: Brussels, Belgium

"Enjoyed as a post-Thanksgiving dinner treat, it was this beer that immediately made my fiancée and my head turn, and not only because it has one of the best resumes in the game, with two iconic Belgian establishments, Brasserie de la Senne and Brassiere Cantillon, on the same label. Donning a glowing tarnished-gold color and rocky off-white head, the beauty of this saison, which is made by blending old lambic from Cantillon, is in aroma. It's both new-wave tropical dominant of lime zest, passion fruit, quince paste, and soft peach, with an underlying lambic-aged hop funk and subtle oak character to spark curiosity. The body starts soft with a complex funk and stone fruit upfront then tannins, a gripping bitterness, and lime pith dries out the body beautifully. It’s like a well-orchestrated symphony in liquid form!" — Chris Leguizamon, advanced cicerone and education program manager at Pure Project Brewing

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Blackberry Farm Foeder Classic

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ABV: 6.5%
From: Walland, TN

"A good friend of mine saw this beer and thought of me immediately. When they pulled it out the bag, I laughed a little and said, 'Yea, that's straight up my alley!' I remember trying Blackberry Farms' Classic Saison for the first time out in Colorado at Big Beers fest years ago and, to this day, you can usually find a six-pack of it in my fridge. The brewery took that simple yet delicious beer and blended it with an oak-aged version for the Foeder Classic. Stone fruit, delicate spiciness, a little funk from the Brett, and that signature saison yeast profile still shines through the oak character. Farmhouse beer aged on oak? I'll pick 'em everytime." — LaTroya Butts, brewer at Five Wits Brewing Company

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Monkish Freshie Forever

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ABV: 10.2%
From: Torrence, CA

"Monkish cans are ultimate hype, and typically difficult to get your hands on. But stay-at-home orders led the California brewery to start shipping direct to consumer in April. My friends, coworkers, and I were suddenly obtaining cans by the case at least once a month. Freshie Forever is the epitome of why Monkish will continue to be one of the best hazy producers, despite the argument that 'all they do is change the hops.' A good hazy requires a variety of techniques for everything to come together in that slender piece of aluminum. Monkish had this figured out early on, and its expertise shows in this iteration of a triple IPA. The complexity of layering in a heavy dry hop while minimizing hot alcohol production, and still reaching the target of a balanced final gravity is no easy feat. And the final test was the perfect combination of Citra and Enigma, two strong hops, added in the appropriate amounts for a balanced profile. Beautiful fluffy gold-yellow color, full soft body without lingering sweetness, and a finish free of hop burn. Subtle 10% ABV boozy, hidden behind a mouth full of tropical, dank citrus. It’s not everyday I choose to enjoy a triple IPA, but when it’s presented with such a smooth expression of hops, what the hazy style does best, I couldn’t put it down." — Terran Filakousky, head brewer at Unsung Brewing Company

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Braybrooke Helles

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ABV: 4.2%
From: Market Harborough, England

"In a year that felt no less tumultuous than the one previous, my beer preference has continued to waver towards the familiar, the reliable, and the delicious. As much as beer is work for me, enjoying a pint represents that point of switching off and letting your brain escape the chaos for a short while. On a trip to the recently opened Track Brewery taproom in my home of Manchester, I went straight for the guest lager on the side pour faucet, a Helles from Braybrooke, one of the U.K.'s finest lager breweries. Bright, malt forward, with a rounded completeness juuust about held together with a whisper of peppery hop spice, this beer tastes about as close to perfection as I believe a good lager can. So much in fact, that I couldn't stop thinking about it and headed back for more the next day. Chaos be damned." — Matthew Curtis, author of “Modern British Beer” and co-founder of Pellicle Magazine

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Firestone Walker Primal Elements

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ABV: 6%
From: Paso Robles, CA

"I normally don’t drink beers with multiple fruit sources but this sour ale blew me away. Coming from Firestone Walker's Barrelworks facility, it has a mild acidity that melds so nicely with the pineapple, mango and tangerine additions. The mouthfeel is silky and soft and finishes with just a kiss of acidity leaving you wanting another sip." — Vinnie Cilurzo, owner and brewmaster at Russian River Brewing Company

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Lost and Grounded Helles

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ABV: 4.4%
From: Bristol, England

"Lost and Grounded make great lager. This year, a helles was added to the brewery's core range, which might be even more smashable than its well-known Keller Pils. Malt forward, it’s bready with a sweet honey finish, and the refreshing acidity and carbonation to keep you coming back for more. I debated choosing one of Lost and Grounded's one-off specials, the Czech pils and the Newstalgic English lager both being exceptional this year. But the joy of Helles is the availability of frosty pints at the pub. I spent a delightful six hours one lazy Sunday in my local where Helles was the perfect pairing to good company and a huge roast dinner. A brilliant beer made by lovely people at a brilliant brewery." — Zoe Wyeth, brewer at Villages Brewery

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Westbound & Down How the West Was One: Strata

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ABV: 6.5%
From: Idaho Springs, CO

"It’s no secret that the brewers at Westbound & Down are cranking out some of the country's finest West Coast IPAs, and this is an exceptional example. Featuring the brewery's first hop selection of the up-and-coming variety, Strata, this vividly clear and crisp liquid blasts you with massive aromatics of strawberry and dank sticky nugs. The taste follows suit with waves of ripe blueberry and wisps of white peach, finishing with a bitterness that builds up throughout the sip and leaves you longing for another. I commend Westbound for pushing the bitterness and dryness to a level you don’t often find in the modern world of sweet and juicy. Keep sticking to your guns, the world needs more of this!" — Adam Rosenthal, co-founder and head brewer at Wayward Lane Brewing

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Bierstadt Lagerhaus All the Hype

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ABV: 4.8%
From: Denver, CO

"My favorite new beer I had this year has to be this smoked helles, a collaboration between Bierstadt and Green Bench. As someone who makes several rauchbiers I love that Ashleigh [Carter, co-founder and head brewer at Bierstadt] and Khris [Johnston, co-owner and head brewer at Green Bench] just went all out with 100% smoked malt. People who don't like smoked beers aren't going to drink it no matter what so you may as well make it as smoky as possible. I was able to try the beer at Bierstadt and, yes, it was smoky. But it was also well balanced, easy-drinking, and great with food." — Lisa Allen, head brewer at Heater Allen Brewing

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Cerebral x J.Wakefield Humo Y Espejos (Smoke and Mirrors)

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ABV: 12.4%
From: Denver, CO

"I haven’t had a barrel-aged stout in years that has blown me away quite like this collab with J. Wakefield. Thinking back to that moment, the beer poured ink black and had a small, tan ring of head around the edge of the glass. The nose was smoked chocolate and rye spice. The first sip broke my head with its thick-bodied, viscous, and not overly sweet alcohol heat that warmed the finish. After my initial shock wore off, I was able to better taste the complexities that came from the blend of Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Chocolate Malted Rye and mezcal reposado barrels. Earthy notes and flavors of plums, raisins, rye spice, dark chocolate, smoked almonds, oak, prunes, cake frosting, and leather, with hints of dried tobacco and a faint note of smoke. They all came together to create one of the most unique, non-adjuncted barrel-aged stout experiences of the year. Thank you Cerebral for giving us this gift." — Skip Schwartz, head brewer at WeldWerks Brewing Co.

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Alphabet Belinda's Ruin

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ABV: 5%
From: Manchester, U.K.

"I'm not one to actively seek out limited edition beers for the sake of it, but when I heard of Manchester-based ABC brewery's collaboration with podcast series ‘My Dad Wrote a Porno‘ I was running to the shelves. A huge fan of the hilariously filthy podcast, I was eager to see how the show, which almost exclusively features gin and tonics and Chilean Chardonnay, could be brought to the world of beer. To my delight, ABC didn't disappoint. Featuring beer names that ring true to true Belinkers such as Nectar of the Norse Gods and Belinda's Ruin, the artwork was just as much fun as the drink inside (and now prominently features on my fridge after I finally succumbed to the traditional craft beer geek tradition of carefully peeling the label off the can). One has to wonder how a 'Chardonnay-inspired ale' or a 'Gin & Tonic IPA' translates to a can of water, barley, and hops, but I was pleasantly surprised to find both reminiscent of their namesake. If I had to choose one, I think I would have to pick Belinda's Ruin to feature here; bursting with botanicals, it truly was a G&T turned beer. While traditionalists may turn up their noses at such unorthodox flavorings, I believe these bold flavor profiles and popular collaborations go a long way towards introducing more people to the wonderfully varied and enjoyable world of beer." — Katie Wiles, board director of British Guild of Beer Writers

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T.F. Brewing Heidelberger Edel Pils

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ABV: 5%
From: Salt Lake City, UT

“Kevin Templin and his crew make my favorite lagers in the United States. Salt Lake City might be the last place people expect to find such, clean, impeccable, and true-to-style crispy bois, but T.F. Brewing cranks them out regularly. Heidelberger was my favorite of this past year, due to its biscuity malt character and mild citrus finish. While a touch sweeter and less dry than their other pilsners, this beer exudes freshness. Also, the aggressive carbonation coupled with a huge creamy white head makes this one of the easiest beers to drink out there. I love the lingering hop flavor and lemon character in this full-bodied gem. Templin does things the right way. While time-consuming and labor-intensive, this practice sure pays off and shines through in the final product. A milk pour of Heidelberger on a hot Utah summer day cannot be beat." — Kyle Harrop, founder of Horus Aged Ales

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Land & Labour Crimson

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ABV: 5.5%
From: Galway, Ireland

"After moving to Ireland in May of 2020, the last thing I expected to find was spontaneously produced beer. But Tom Delaney of Land & Labour has been squirreling away barrels of beautifully wild beer in Galway that perfectly reflects the western coast of this small island. One of his most recent releases immediately caught my attention: Crimson, a 75/25 blend of two spontaneously fermented beers aged on cherries and raspberries, respectively. With over a kilo of macerated fruit per liter, it is everything a fruited beer should be; fruity, funky, and fun, with the perfect blend of acidity from the berries and the blend. I'm very much looking forward to what Land & Labour has in store for the future!" — Lewis Horne, quality control manager at Whiplash Beer

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Oxbow Trisky Pivo

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ABV: 5%
From: Newcastle, ME

"I found myself craving this awesome double-decocted, Czech-style pale lager each time I needed a good river beer this summer. Perfect when you’re in the mood for a lager with some extra assertiveness, it’s bready, super hoppy, and bitter in the best way. I’m hoping to see another batch of it on shelves this spring." — Justin Anderson, director of brewing operations at The Veil Brewing Co.

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De Dolle Dulle Teve Riserva 2018

dulle teve riserva 2018
Courtesy of Dan W., Untappd
ABV: 10%
From: Esen, Belgium

"Cult favorites Brouwerij De Dolle rocked the beer world in 2021 by releasing perhaps the best Belgian Tripel ever made: Dulle Teve Riserva 2018. Don’t let the date fool you; this tripel was casked for almost three years in a Massolino Chardonnay barrel and a rumored 400 bottles were released this year. TR2018 leverages the creamy esters and Chiquita musk of the underlying Westmallesque tones and ramps the complexity up substantially with drying oak, spicy acidity, honeydew confronted by Sancerre/chablis, and the most crackly, intensely refreshing cumulus carb you can imagine. This beer is a pinnacle of style and a tart, clovey masterpiece. Trappist monks are dripping in Chrome Hearts." — Alex Kidd, founder of Don't Drink Beer and co-host of “Malt Couture”

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Cohesion 10º: Wet Hop Světlé Výčepní Pivo

cohesion brewing company
Cohesion Brewing Company

ABV: 3.9%
From: Denver, CO

"Eric Larson, co-founder and brewer at Cohesion, is utilizing traditional Czech brewing techniques and ingredients in a way that brought me back to the craft breweries I visited years ago in Prague. The 10º Wet Hop Světlé Výčepní Pivo (meaning 'pale draft beer') pilsner is a beautiful and subtle Czech-style pale lager brewed using old-world, under-modified malts and Czech Saaz hops, with a wet hop addition of locally grown Cascade from Billy Goat Hop Farms in Montrose, Colorado. Eric cuts no corners in his approach to the style; from brewing techniques to serving presentation. Utilizing classic side-pour faucets, there are three types of pours to choose from. The conventional lager head seen in most American breweries, the flavorful mlíko pour of full foam, or the half foam, a hybrid of the two. No matter what option you choose, the aroma and flavor of Wet Hop are subtle with bright notes of citrus mingling with the bready quality of fine pilsner malt. The carbonation, achieved from the classic German-style of 'spunding' (natural carbonation), rounds out the mouthfeel with a tight, creamy quality. At 3.9% ABV, it is approachable and very easy to throw back a few!" — Robert Bell, head brewer at Hogshead Brewery

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Burial Mystic Caravan

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ABV: 7%
From: Asheville, NC

“Let’s be honest, I haven’t met a Burial beer I didn’t love. I’m regularly in awe of the brewery’s ability to create flavors that are truly complex, inviting, and enjoyable. I picked up a can of Mystic Caravan here in Charlotte and was surprised to see Miami’s Unseen Creatures as a collaborator. When I lived in Miami from 2019-2020 we were in the taproom every week (much love to Drew Orta for his hospitality!) and we’re excited to see them join the small yet growing beer scene down there. This IPA, also made with band Expo ‘70, features a clean drinkability that’s balanced with white grape and citrus notes from the combination of Citra, Nelson, and Topaz hops. The tropical, yet earthy fruitiness of the lychee used evoked memories of eating the fruit straight from the tree. Enjoying a beer created by one of my favorite North Carolina breweries in collaboration with a brewery from my hometown brought my love of craft beer full circle and with the pop of a silver tab transported me back home.” — Razia Gonzalez, brewer and marketing at Pilot Brewing Company

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Falling Knife Of A Feather

falling knife of a feather
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ABV: 5.5%
From: Minneapolis, MN

"Attending school in Munich produced in me an undying love of lager beer. I love brewing lagers, and even more so, I love drinking lagers. Of A Feather from Falling Knife and Fair State is one of the best examples of a Munich-style helles I've had. Both Minneapolis breweries consistently put out some of my favorite beers and produce some of the finest lagers in the Midwest. Even so, Of A Feather stands out. I got to enjoy a sneak preview back in August with founder Tom Berg and Ben, who does sales and packaging, in Falling Knife's taproom and was really wowed. It was perfectly balanced and full flavored. Sweet, bready floor-malted pilsner malt blends seamlessly with floral aromatics, the faintest hit of sulphur, and a zippy bitterness. I'd drink this beauty in quantity every day if I could." — Austin Myhran, head brewer at Wild Mind Artisan Ales

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Allagash x Sankofa Woven in Time

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ABV: 5.7%
From: Portland, ME

"This is a collaboration between Allagash and Sankofa Beer Company, the first Black-owned brewery in D.C., for the Barrel & Flow Fest. While I wasn’t able to go to the fest, my friend and I were interested in trying the beer so we ordered it for delivery on Tavour. Woven in Time is a brown ale brewed with millet and smoked maple syrup. While millet looks like a seed, it is actually a very nutritious grain that is widely consumed in Africa. It gives off a lot of similar characteristics as sorghum when used in brewing. I've always had respect for Allagash but was not familiar with Sankofa before trying this collab, which features notes of chocolate, burnt sugar, and dried fruits. The smoked maple syrup adds a hint of smokiness and also accentuates the sweetness of the malt. It's too bad this beer isn't available all the time because I could drink this one year-round." — Mike Gleason, head brewer at Jack's Abby Craft Lagers

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4 Hands Felix & Milo

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ABV: 4.5%
From: St. Louis, MO

"This was a beer created to celebrate an employee’s children being born and it encapsulates the celebration of the light and love brewers can bring to a style and the familial relationship in the brewery. The nose is dominantly mango with an effervescent floral rose note. The problem I usually have with the majority of saisons is the over-spiced clove aspect and how it dominates and coats your taste buds. That is nowhere to be found here. Instead, it perfectly balances malty sweetness with its Sichuan berry spice and resolves crispy but clean. It is simple and complex all at once, like stellar beer, or food, or art is. Being a packaging guy I can’t help but feel a celebration in the overall package itself. Alongside the beautiful balanced tastes in the bottle you see the positivity when you read the clean, whimsical label. And feel it until the beer is gone and you’re wondering if you have more somewhere. You just don’t want a celebration that beautiful to end." — Caleb Davis, brewer and head of packaging at Main & Mill Brewing Company

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Old Thunder Heroes & Ghosts

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ABV: 7.5%
From: Pittsburgh, PA

“For me, the craft-beer world is riddled with amazing IPA options. However, for some reason, maybe nostalgia, I keep longing for the clear, maltier, resinous IPAs of decades past. I‘m from Portland, Maine, originally, where Baxter Stowaway was a beer my palate was developed on. And with every trip to the West Coast I take, I seek Pliny the Elder from Russian River with diligence. Old Thunder’s Heroes & Ghosts is billed a Northern Cali-style IPA, brewed with a blend of hops from the Pacific Northwest. It’s well-balanced with notes of fresh barley, citrus, flowers, and pine. And it’s fermented with the classic California Chico yeast strain. I'm more excited about Chico or clean-fermented beers than any other beer advancements I've seen in my craft-beer career. I think that‘s because I have come across so many adjunct-based, muddled, and over-done beers in the past few years that simplicity and cleanliness in my pint makes me extremely satisfied. I don't mean this in a slight to Old Thunder at all, but more often than not, I just want a well-executed beer that is objectively one-dimensional and has a purpose and direction. An honest beer, brewed by honest, hardworking brewers always wins for me. Heroes & Ghosts is just that. Plus the brewery revitalized an old U.S. post office as its taproom and provides a unique drinking environment!” — Cam Bosch, co-founder and COO at Permanent Hangover

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Pivovar Matuška Tonda 12°

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ABV: 5.1%
From: Broumy, Czech Republic

"As far as drinkability and taste balance, there is nothing that can beat good and properly poured Czech lager. And for us in Czech, there is nothing more typical and traditional than 12°, meaning 12° Plato lager (yeah, look it up, we are really weird in this). Even though I will try anything new I always come back to pilsner-style beer for the sheer joy and taste. Tonda 12° is a proper Czech lager made with decoction mashing, only pilsner malt, and Saaz hops. The fine bitterness of Czech noble hops is beautifully balanced by the full body from decoction. The overall experience is rounded by a seductive aroma of hops, yeast, and malt so typical for pilsner style. With every sip you want to drink more and more. And this beer also has a story. Adam Matuška, the brewmaster, brewed Tonda (short for Antonín) for the birth of his son this year. Not fancy in a typical way, not overpowering in any way, but beautifully balanced and hugely drinkable. Amazing beer with a touching story behind it. What else do you want?" — Lukáš Tomsa, brewmaster at Dva Kohouti

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Jackie O's Rack & Ruin

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ABV: 13.1%
From: Athens, OH

"A bourbon-barrel-aged stout for Jackie O's fifteenth anniversary made in collaboration with England's Buxton Brewing, it's ridiculously smooth, well balanced, and not too boozy, even at 13.1% ABV. Inspired by Derbyshire oatcakes and bakewell pudding, you get big vanilla, cacao, and almond flavors with a nice amount of lactose. Usually I find these flavors difficult to dial in and one adjunct always takes over. Not the case here! I live in Columbus so Jackie O's opening a location here was a highlight of the crazy year that was 2020. And it continues to be a staple in 2021. We are so lucky!" — Jenn Suitt, brewer at Homestead Beer Co.

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Dutchess Ales Walser Alpine Lager

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ABV: 4.8%
From: Wassaic, NY

"It's a running joke on the podcast I produce that I have a very serious thing for crispy little beers from Brooklyn. So it should come as no surprise to anyone who listens that my favorite beer of the year is a snappy 4.8% lager from itinerant brewer Dutchess Ales. This is only the second lager proprietor Mike Messenie, who lives and works out of Brooklyn, has produced under the Dutchess brand, which is technically based upstate in Wassaic, the first being a Franconian-inspired kellerbier, Ketzer, from last year. Reaching beyond the German repertoire for this one, Messenie crafted an herbal Swiss Appenzell-style lager based on the Brauerei Locher Quöllfrisch naturtrüb, with notes of juniper, orange peel, and alpine herbs. It's a fitting beer for summer or winter, and one of the best ways to finish out the year. I can't wait to see what Dutchess has in store for 2022." — Justin Kennedy, producer of “Steal This Beer” and author of “The Bucket Beer List”

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Liberation Cautiously Optimistic

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ABV: 5.2%
From: Long Beach, CA

“Cautiously Optimistic is a love letter to your palate from Eric McLaughin, head brewer at Liberation, a small but mighty brewery producing some fabulous beers. I absolutely love everything about this Belgian-style saison. To start, the label art is beautifully designed in this sort of minimal vintage fashion. Packaged in 300-milliliter bottles it just screams, ‘best X-mas gift ever!’ Bottle conditioned and brewed with German spelt malt, this saison pours pale golden with a gorgeously dense, fluffy white head. As expected with Belgian farmhouse ale, the yeast here delivers a pleasant level of spice with really nice subtle floral notes. This refreshingly bone dry, effervescent farmhouse ale pairs perfectly with the ocean breeze of sunny Long Beach weather. It’s everything you want in a saison.” — Ray Ricky Rivera, founder of Norwalk Brew House and co-founder of SCC Distribution Network

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Stickman Brews Experimental Series 7

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ABV: 4.9%
From: Royersford, PA

"We get to try a lot of new beers, and mostly from around the region. Maybe it was just the time and place, but the year's personal favorite goes to this English-style pub ale. Yeah, shocker, I picked a pub ale. But this one still really Sticks-man with me! My co-worker Kevin Geidosch and I popped a couple of these babies one night and just fell in love. We were on our front stoops, which face 3rd Street in Bethlehem. It was either late spring or early summer—or it could have been last week—but, man, was everything just right there. The malt, the hops, the flavor, the color, the aroma. Every creamy sip was better than the last. And right out the can! I remember bits of Ceylon, orange pekoe tea leaves dipped in, with a social square biscuit thing going on. And, ohhhhhhh, the foam! And the mouthfeel? Just, right where I wanted it. Funny enough, we had an evening of drinking pub ales, three others from us or collaborations with us, and all were very good. But I'll tell you, I still had to give it to Stickman that night! I don't even know if I want it to be a year-round offering, but I certainly wouldn't mind a steady supply. I'd say that beer is like a good neighbor, someone you want to see when you need to. And when you do? Everything is alright with the world." — Sam Masotto, owner and brewer at Bonn Place Brewing

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Newbarns Haná Helles Lager

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ABV: 5.5%
From: Edinburgh, Scotland

"This beer is both a celebration of malt generally and a pedestal for one varietal in particular. That would be Haná, a heritage barley that originated in the Haná Valley of the Czech Republic, and which was used to make the world's first pilsners. Recently revived in the U.K. by Crisp Maltings, which floor-malts it the traditional way, Haná is a real peach: as bountifully bready as a bakery that's just thrown open its doors in the morning, it's sweetly toasty, generously full, and endlessly likable. This helles lager, by Edinburgh's Newbarns Brewery, tones down any background noise or hoppy distractions to let the malt shine unabated. The result is both easy to drink and worth savoring, from a rising-star brewery that mingles retro sensibilities with contemporary acuity." — Claire Bullen, editor-in-chief of Good Beer Hunting

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4 Noses Sticks + Stones

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ABV: 4.8%
From: Broomfield, CO

"While visiting family in Colorado, I snagged a four-pack; the name and label art were enough to intrigue me into buying this sour brown ale with cinnamon and peaches. 4 Noses was able to capture the essence of peach cobbler while remaining perfectly balanced. Truly astonishing! Many dessert beers no longer taste like beer with all the adjunct additions, but Sticks + Stones reminded me that dessert beers can still taste like good, quality brews and adjuncts should merely elevate the base flavors, not overwhelm them. Not only was this beer damn delicious, it has inspired me to think about adjuncts a bit differently within my own recipe development. I can’t wait to try what they come up with next. Big cheers to 4 Noses!" —Lily Schulz, lead brewer at Right Proper Brewing Company and chapter leader of Pink Boots Society D.C.

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Plan Bee Garden Beer

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ABV: 3.0%
From: Poughkeepsie, NY

"There are many wonderful beers to be had these days, and as a brewer oftentimes too many. Small beers make for a long, pleasant day of imbibing and Garden Beer is a delightful farmhouse saison brewed with New York State ingredients, including Plan Bee's own farm-grown coriander seed. Crispy, light, and just complex enough." — Basil Lee, co-founder of Finback Brewery

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